Having spent the vast majority of my 41 years on Earth as a Pittsburgh Steelers and Oklahoma Sooners fan, you can imagine how I felt when in the 2013 NFL draft, world collided and the Steelers drafted Sooners quarterback Landry Jones in the fourth round. Now, I like to think that I have a pretty good handle on the culture of the Steelers franchise as well as a pretty keen eye on the strengths and weaknesses of the quarterback I’ve watched play for the Sooners the past four seasons. And I’ll say this, if there is a situation where Jones can be successful, it’s likely with the Steelers, but don’t pretend it’s going to be easy.
The truth is, Jones is a fascinating study as a quarterback. We always talk about quarterbacks in terms of their physical tools and their intangibles. Jones is interesting because there is such a divide between the two. Physically, Jones is everything you could want from a quarterback, and his skill set is on par with any quarterback in this draft. He has a quick set up, does a nice job on play fakes and shows a tight release and very good velocity on his throws. He’s also surprisingly athletic on designed rollouts and when avoiding the rush shows good agility.
Jones works in the Sooners quick hitting Air Raid offense that keys on one read, quick throws and very little in terms of a progression. It’s a highly effective college offense, but it does bring into question a player who is very successful in it, just how quickly they can learn a more traditional NFL style offense?
So, understand that my trepidation with Jones has nothing to do with his physical skills. And many Steelers fans have point to statistics to make their case for Jones. But I would caution you not to scout through box scores. In terms of those intangibles, there are concerns with Jones. Too many times I saw Jones crumble under mediocre pressure rather than step up and make a throw. I can understand a quarterback making poor decisions under extreme duress, but that isn’t the way Jones works. Often times when the pressure is intense, he’ll use that sneaky athleticism to make a play. It’s the more mundane play where Jones is simply forced to go through his progressions and check down he’ll just crumble. These are those plays that made Sooners fans cringe and were often at key times in key games.
When Jones has these lapses, his throws become erratic, he loses velocity and his footwork will get sloppy. If all you know of Jones is the box score, you never get to see this side of him. But full disclosure, this is who Jones is at times. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak on Jones and his leadership abilities. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to speak to many people affiliated with the Sooners football program on multiple levels and a theme that worries me is the sentiment that Jones did not inspire confidence in his teammates and did not exhibit good leadership. He spent the bulk of his free time away from his teammates, and to some that was viewed as being aloof or removed from the team. Not saying I agree or disagree, simply reporting what I know.
But as for Jones’ situation, being able to sit behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is ideal for him. Roethlisberger is a leader who inspires his teammates, and this is something Jones could learn from him. Roethlisberger is also one of the best quarterbacks in the league when it comes to dealing with pressure, another area that Jones can learn from Roethlisberger and become better. I’m not sure if Jones can ever be a great starting quarterback in the NFL, but there isn’t a better place for him to try than with the Steelers.